The conflicting parties met for talks overseen by Norway’s state mediator on Friday afternoon, shortly after being told Swedish pilots had until 4pm on Friday to agree to be transferred to Norwegian’s new subsidiary, Pilot Services Sweden AB.
"If you do not wish to be transferred from Norwegian Air Norway AS to Pilot Services Sweden AB, you have to inform Norwegian by 4pm on March 6th, in which case your employment will be terminated,” the letter, obtained by Norwegian state broadcaster NRK, read.
Norwegian pilots were sent a similar letter, but with a deadline of two weeks, while Danish pilots received no deadline at all, with the difference due to different employment legislation in the various countries.
The apparent threat came shortly before unions representing Norwegian Air Norway’s pilots met with the company’s management for formal talks overseen by Norway’s government mediator.
At 7pm, the head mediator Nils Dalseide said that the talks were going well, and that both sides had been “constructive” and “cooperative”, despite the growing public bitterness but up over the strike.
By Friday night it was unclear how many Swedish pilots had responded to the ultimatum.
“We’ve told our members to sit still in the boat,” Swedish Pilots’ Association chairman Martin Lindgren said at a press conference on Friday.
But Charlotte Holmbergh Jacobsson, Norwegian’s press officer in Sweden stressed that the letter was not a threat in a press release sent out on Friday afternoon.
“There is absolutely no threat as some media write and that some politicians claim (Ulvskog),” she wrote. “Our intention is only to inform pilots in Norwegian Air Norway about their option of whether choose whether they want to work in the new company or not. It is a right conferred by law to remain with one’s old employer if one wishes.”
She would not confirm whether those who stayed would be able to keep their jobs, saying only that the company would “evaluate” whether there was sufficient work remaining to keep them employed.
Jan Levi Skogvang, who represents pilots working for Norwegian’s Scandinavian rival SAS, said on Friday night that the “aggressiveness and creativity” of the way Norwegian had responded to the strike had got the attention of pilots worldwide.
“If he succeeds with what he is now trying to do, it is the start of the destruction of the Norwegian working life,” he argued. “That’s why it’s strange that no Norwegian politicians have got more involved.”
The strike began in the early hours of last Saturday after negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement failed to reach a conclusion before the midnight deadline.
The strike started with 70 pilots walking off the job in Norway, followed by 650 across Scandinavia on Wednesday.
Since it began the conflict has affected more than 100,000 passengers, according to Norwegian, Europe's third largest budget carrier after Ryanair and easyJet.
On Friday nearly half of 500 scheduled flights were cancelled, mostly on domestic routes in the three Scandinavian countries and between their capitals.
Routes in other parts of Europe and long-haul flights were operating a near-normal service, the Oslo-based group said.
The Norwegian pilots, employed by its subsidiary Norwegian Air Norway, want to maintain tight organisational links with the parent company in the hope of safeguarding their jobs and to standardise salary conditions for all pilots employed in the various Scandinavian subsidiaries.
They also want to have a say in the status of employees on flights to and from Scandinavia, fearing they will be pushed out by cheaper staff working for subsidiaries based outside the high-cost Nordic region.
The company, which incurred its first loss in eight years last year, is seeking to lower costs and benefits for pilots and to increase the flexibility of their employment contracts.